My Highest Hope for Cambodian Education

Monirath Siv, Founder and CEO of Teach For Cambodia

I am a teacher at heart and, in the classroom, I have found the meaning of education and my hope for the Cambodian future. I have learned that at the core of teaching are connections. Good teachers create bonds between themselves, their subject contents and their students so that the students can learn to create a world for themselves, their families and for all of us. Good teachers work to develop and maintain a high morale, inspire hope in children and do whatever is needed to put that child on a path towards achievement and success.

For Cambodian children growing up in poverty, it can be life-changing to encounter teachers with such rare leadership skills. In troubled communities, students bring social and emotional issues and the trauma of poverty into the classrooms. This makes teaching extremely difficult. It takes enormous courage to be a good teacher in this context. It is my highest hope for Cambodia to have over 3.2 million children in the public school system, with excellent, courageous and dedicated teachers.

This is why I founded Teach For Cambodia (TFC), a locally led and independent organization working to advance educational equity. Right now, the need for education is extremely urgent. Nearly half of the Cambodian population is under 24 years old and the completion rate at the upper secondary level is only 22%. Our instinct is to find a quick fix. These efforts are rarely implemented properly at the systemic level, nor are they sustainable. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made even the basic functions more difficult for our education system.

Innovation in public education is very difficult and can take a long time, yet it is necessary in Cambodia. Innovation must align all efforts together and achieve equity as its endgame. Without equity-centered and sustainable innovation, we are bound to perpetuate inequality rather than solve it and give people a means to grow organically. Sustainable innovation and development, in my view, come from local leadership, local ownership of the process and buy-ins from actors that will be responsible for implementation, maintenance, and scaling change across the country.

At Teach For Cambodia, we have worked to develop an innovative solution that can help the largely young population of Cambodia lift themselves and our country into a new era. We take an intentional approach towards building a pool of local change agents and advocates for the education sector and wisely engage those who see how education fits into the broader context.

Our immediate focus is to put well trained teachers in low-resourced classrooms, where parents and children need them the most. We call them Teaching Fellows. Their commitment is two-years as full-time teachers, with full accountability in the Cambodian public schools. Educated locally and abroad, the Fellows come from diverse backgrounds in engineering, mathematics, psychology, computer science and foreign language. Our ultimate goal is to develop these Teaching Fellows into long-term local leaders who can own and sustain impactful innovations in the education sector and Cambodia.

I am inspired by the power of our local communities who are aligned in this effort. Together, we have over 9,000 students, 86 TFC teachers and alumni, leaders at the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport, public school partners in Phnom Penh, Kandal and Kampong Chnang, and our teacher training partner, the Royal University of Phnom Penh. I am grateful every day to have our remarkable local partners, including ISI GROUP, Raintree, and DHL who support us in our work, especially during this difficult and uncertain time.

Do we have the courage to seize this moment and set ourselves up for the future?

If we can innovate and align our efforts towards educational equity, opportunities will arise where there weren’t any before. This gives Cambodians the ability to build a more vibrant and inclusive world for themselves and raise more people who can compete in the national and global society. Cambodians have shown each other that, as people, we can rebuild our nation after genocide and conflict have hindered our development for so long. This time, we will do it together through education, equity and local leadership. The time is now.

Monirath Siv is a certified teacher from New Jersey Department of Education with Certification in Science Teaching and Master of Science in Education from University of Pennsylvania. Moni was named the California New Century Scholar by the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation (2009), an honoree of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia for Social Entrepreneurship (2019) and an Obama Leader by the Obama Foundation (2019).

He is also a curator overseeing Global Shapers Phnom Penh Hub (initiative of World Economic Forum), a co-designer of Teacher Professional Development at Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) and a lecturer in Faculty of Education at RUPP. He’s the founder, and currently, the CEO of Teach For Cambodia (TFC).